WASHINGTON – The CIA once considered producing a toy action figure of Osama bin Laden that would transform into a devil-eyed demon, hoping to persuade children abroad that he was no hero, but a scary villain.
The face of the 12-inch (30-cm) doll was painted with a material designed to dissolve and peel off under heat, revealing bin Laden to be a demonic monster, with a red race, frightening green eyes and black facial markings, the Washington Post reported.
The 2005 psychological operation, dubbed “Devil Eyes,” solicited expert advice from a prominent retired executive from the Hasbro toy company, Donald Levine, who looked into manufacturing the action figure in China.
Three prototypes were created, but the spy agency decided not to go ahead with the project, the CIA said.
“The action figure idea was proposed and rejected by CIA before it got past the prototype stage,” spokeswoman K.J. Caldwell said.
“To our knowledge, there were only three individual action figures ever created, and these were merely to show what a final product might look like,” she said.
The dolls were never manufactured or distributed by the agency and the “CIA has no knowledge of these action figures being produced or distributed by others,” she said.
The Washington Post, however, quoting an anonymous source familiar with the project, said hundreds of the action figures were made in a pre-production run in China and then shipped to Karachi, Pakistan, in 2006.
The former Hasbro executive, Levine, had made his name helping to create G.I. Joe, which became a line of best-selling action figures in the 1960s. He also had business contacts in China that would have helped manufacture the doll.
Levine died in May at age 86. When asked about the project, his family told the Post: “Don Levine was a dedicated patriot, and proud Korean War veteran. When called on, he was honored to assist our country.”
“Devil Eyes” was part of a plan to give America’s allies in South Asia material — including toys and school supplies — that could be handed out to children to promote good will, according to the Post.
The CIA has long carried out “influence operations” designed to undermine an adversary and spread favorable propaganda, with mixed results.
During the Cold War, the agency bankrolled radio broadcasts, literary journals, concerts and art exhibits, and dropped leaflets from balloons to counter the Soviets.